a guild wars 2 ‘review’
you cant really give a full review for guild wars 2, just because its massive size and scope means only the most dedicated players have explored all it in breadth and depth. but at the same time after spending hours with the game you can still gather a general impression of the game to your tastes and begin to really critique the work as a whole.
for the short judgement of the game ill quote one of my favorite game reviewers, xoxak:
so half this game is ugly and confusing. the other half is by the books and boring. i love the ugly and confusing part.
and the long analysis is below the fold
as a preface id like to state that theres a legion of fanboys willing to discredit any kind of criticism levelled against this game, and its a shame because this game does have a lot of very good things going for it, but its not the perfect game its hyped up to be. pointing out and discussing the flaws in something is an exercise in rational thinking and analysis that shouldn’t be stymied just because someone might disagree with it.
not the mmo revolution you were looking for
right off the bat i can tell you: if you don’t like mmo style combat, mmo style activities, mmo style progression, and all the quirks that come with mmo style games, you probably wont like guild wars 2. i know arenanet has said they want people who ‘hate mmos’ should check out guild wars 2, and to their credit it does have a lot of quality of life improvements over the world of warcraft formula. but its still a world of warcraft formula game, no amount of buzzwords you drape the games’ mechanics in are going to change that fact. it is still a very nice world of warcraft game, and will hopefully become a solid foundation for arenanet to build an even better game on and to iron out bugs from.
but any game could potentially be a better and much more interesting game, and i cant just give the game a free pass because arenanet has a good record of content creation. blizzard had a good record of releases and updates and gave us diablo 3, and all the planned content in the world doesnt change the fact swtor sucks.
needs to bake for just a few more minutes…
i get the feeling that the games’ launch wasnt determined by when the game was ‘done’, but rather by when arenanet was confident they could capitalize on the massive unsustainable fanboy hype surrounding the game. there were a lot of bugs in the first week, and the trading post (aka auction house) is still a buggy unreliable mess, event regularly bug across all zones causing entire sequences of events to become unreachable, and players have been banned for taking advantage of vendor prices arenanet fucked up.
you can argue no major mmo launches in a fully polished state, but that’s not a good excuse for selling a product that isn’t finished. to arenanets credit they are at least up front about some of their bugs — provided you know where to look. one would hope that the launcher would be a valuable source of in game news, but often times the most up to date information on the games status can only be found on the guild wars 2 facebook page, or the guild wars 2 wiki, and this can throw off a lot of people used to blizzard’s very controlled message style.
2 weeks post launch they have been doing a pretty good job of fixing bugs and rebalancing, but theres still a lot of work to go. the game feels still kind of like a public beta, except your data wont get wiped between patches.
a (sometimes) living world full of adventure (on a 15 minute loop)
but in the end bugs and minor balance issues are boring to criticize a game for. unlike swtor, none of these launch issues seem to be so central to the games core design that they cant be fixed. content is the true king of any mmo, and i kind of am not really liking the content in this game.
ive spent most of my time playing the pve game, and have not yet got into dungeons (no lfg system (/who is NOT a lfg system) and my guild ‘friends’ only run dungeons when im at work). ive spent 0 time still experiencing any of gw2’s pvp, because i am not a pvp person and ive heard that wvw is dominated by 0 tactically interesting battles, while some classes (warriors) enjoy unbalanced builds in spvp. my character is in the mid 60s now, with a tradeskill in the 200s, a couple thousand karma, and 2 gold and change.
my major complaint with the pve is it really only caters to people that have ADD. its great that theres so many different ways to gain experience in this game, whats not great is that if you only find a particular few ways of them very interesting, and the rest are kind of boring, the game becomes kind of boring.
if you want to just follow story missions and make story decisions, you will have to break every now and then and do chores for the locals before continuing your quest. theres nothing quite as immersion breaking as looking up at the level requirement for your next step and having to basically say: “im sorry queen jennah, i know youre under the threat of being attacked, but ive got to reactivate some golems in metrica province before i can worry about saving you. ill be back in an hour.” and compared to the nightfall and eye of the north campaigns from guild wars 1 a lot of the story quests are a major step back both in the activities you do and the story that unfolds. for a closer comparison they also come out short to some of the better story chains that were in swtor, and i feel like they arent really a strong point for the game to begin with.
the much lauded ‘Dynamic Event System’ just isnt as good as it sounds. i still have much of the same complaints with it as i did at the end of beta. theres still plenty of times where i can go for 20 minute stretches and see maybe only one event pop up, and even then i cant get there fast enough to do it. when i try to explore out in the world and find events of my own in some remote corner more often i find nothign but just static enemies and resource nodes. maybe a rich mineral vein or vegetable farm, and if im lucky maybe even a chest. but more often than not i find what are setpieces for events that arent currently happening, with 0 interactivity in them when the event isnt running.
more often then not ive found myself wandering into severe ‘quest on a timer’ events where i will see/do an event, and then 10-15 minutes later see the exact same event happen again. the event plays out in pretty much the exact same way, with no variation of differences. sometimes this can happens 3 or 4 times while im trying to focus on doing something else in the region. events that really happen to have an impact and change on the game world are few and far between, and im not really convinced this new system arenanet has up right now is really any better than the questing systems wow had, or the instanced questing systems that swtor evolved onto wow, or the entirely instanced world guild wars 1 had.
the final major complain about events is that the game just really inst balanced well for the zerg effect. 1-3 players in the open world doing an event will have to use their brains to solve an event and work as a team. once you get beyond 5 people ‘zerg effect’ happens where suddenly enemies are dying too fast to do any real damage, and everyones really just doing their best to tag a mob before it dies so they can get a ‘gold’ rated contribution. the problem is exasperated because nobody really ever skips out on events if they can, they offer a great break from the monotony of the rest of the open world pve experience, and so more often then not you will have 10-20+ players (referred to as ‘the zerg’) steamrolling through events. bosses and spawns are supposed to scale to handle this, but it doesnt really do a good job of this.
theres a chorus of gw2 fans that will tell you that you just ‘need to explore more’ or ‘take things slower’ ‘dont rush’, and this is ridiculous. this game isnt some grand curated single player rpg experience, its a fucking wow clone. my only major verbs in the game world are ‘kill monster’ and ‘harvest resource’, and maybe a few times ‘throw water on thing that doesnt matter’. all of my gearing and stat point choices are focused on only improving my ability to kill monsters. if arenanet really wanted to create an immersive world that fostered this kind of laid back playstyle, they would give me something more interesting to do than kill kill kill.
“welcome to guild wars 2, where the quests are made up and the experience points dont matter”
thankfully the levelling curve seems to be a bit more sane in this game. im not sure if they changed the game around a bit, but during one of the stress tests and the creation of my initial character the terrible 1-5 lurch seems to have disappeared. in its place now is the 10-30 lurch, which was always kind of there but definitely less noticeable than levelling 1-10 during the initial betas.
once you get beyond level 30, the breadth and depth of places to go and things to do increases to the point where you will probably start levelling faster that there is content to do, and this is a good thing, as it means if you arent focusing on being a 100% completionist there is stuff leftover to do on an alt.
in terms of level scaling this becomes more of a mixed bag. what happens when you level scale is that your gear and level numbers have ultimately become meaningless, what matters more are the balance of stats you have, what kind of trait points you have chosen, and how well you can combine your skill choice and gearing choices together in combat. as long as you have your gear up to your most recent level, your power scales to the quality of your gear no matter where you go. the numbers are all %ed out and you have a balanced experience wherever you go. the earlier zones might be earlier, but you cant rely on outlevelling content to make it into a snoozefest (barring event zergfests). this is ultimately a good thing, because it does ultimately deliver on arenanets promise on everythin being ‘end game’.
the bad news is that the scheme is a double edged sword, if you level up too fast and cant replace your gear fast enough you will lose power. the mental exercise is this: a level 80 wearing level 50 gear in a lvl 30 zone is less powerful than if they were a lvl 30 wearing lvl 25 gear in that same lvl 30 zone. the end lesson is this: always be upgrading. theres always been a sort of gear rat race during the levelling portion of mmos, but i think this case its a bit more acute just because gear isn’t a content gating mechanic.
waypoint costs also get astronomical as you level. theyve been improved a little bit, but the very fact that levelling up makes them more expensive to use makes me a little uneasy. theres a certain type of player that likes to wear their ‘i walked all over the world and you should too’ as a badge of pride, but frankly i liked being able to zip around the 1-15 zone and not worry about busting my bank, as it stands now once you get past level 30 youre not incentvized to use them much anymore. they only really become a second repair bill.
i think the game should be a bit more lenient with gear scaling and waypoint usage than it currently is, but i am also aware that the game needs goldsinks in it for endgame players. hopefully they will come up for rebalance, but neither issue is truly game breaking.
this is a game where you can fight centaurs for 40 levels if you want to
ultimately this all means the levelling up, gearing up, and power gain that goes on in guild wars 2 is a gating mechanic, designed to prevent a level 1 player from taking on the The Shatterer immediately. it enfornces a ‘heros journey’ on the player, without committing the world of warcraft sin of trivializing old content. in my eyes, this is also a good thing.
the only bad thing about this is that, once again, unless you enjoy being a hero with ADD, the seems of all this grind becomes a bit monotonous. you cant rely on events to level up, you just cant, and you cant chain interesting story quests together because quite a few are boring and they have a forced levelling buffer between them. so if you want to pve, youre going to be forced into wandering hero duty, doing whatever. the monotony begins to set in when you realize all the enemies, environments, activities, and setpieces are really repetitive in this game. between all my experiences levelling in the betas and my current 60+ character
theres a lot of sameyness going on between the environments. theyre nice, theyre detailed, theyre big enough. but is harathi highlands really all that different from gendarren, kessex, or queensdale? are the level 40 centaurs there really that different from the level 4 centaurs you first saw in queensdale?
my answer is no. youre really fighting the same centaurs you fought back in queensdale, 36 levels later, just now in a slightly different environment and you have different utilities and an ultimate this time. those level 36 centaurs are doing the exact same things those level 4 centaurs did. its great that theres a lot to do an explore elsewhere, but why am i getting the feelin the exact same gameplay been copy pasted for 30+ levels? even after playing hundreds of hours of guild wars 1 i got the sense of that the differences in enemy skill sets and environmental composition had some affect on strategic choices i made. but in guild wars 2 the enemies and environments have so little affect on what happens.
and thats just the mechanical repetition present in the game. the environments are well done in a painterly style, but unlike the concept art which has a lot of striking differences between zones, guild wars 2’s actualized version i feel like im just wandering around in different parts of the exact same painting over and over. this might get fixed over time as more content gets added to the game, but cosmetically i feel like the zones are just copying from a limited pool of themes rather than trying to take a theme and own it and drive it in one direction or another.
…and finally why you should buy and play guild wars 2
so why am i still playing guild wars 2 after 60 levels? its not because of the event system, or the ad hoc grouping. its not because of the dungeons that i cant do because i cant find a group to do them. its not becuase of the pvp because i hate pvp.
its because the combat is statisfying and the game doesnt have a subscription fee.
a good combat system goes a long way. no doubt if i viewed only the prophecies campaign of guild wars 1, id have a similar long list of criticisms about its gameplay and design choices. but its end result after years of content and design upgrades is a truly interesting game built on a pretty decent combat system, and even years past it’s prime i manged to sink hundreds of hours exploring it.
guild wars 2, despite superficially looking like a wow clone made a few very important decisions to set itself apart from wow.
the resource systems of wow: rage, energy, mp, focus, runes, mp acting like energy, whatever the monks are getting. these are all staples of modern mmos, if not modern rpgs. all gone. guild wars 2 is instead more interested in giving you a smaller set of cooldowns, and letting you figure out how you want to use those cooldowns to your advantage.
a naive newcomer to guild wars 2 will tell you that the combat is ‘easy’ and all you have to do is hit ‘1-5 and then swap weapons, rinse repeat’. this is rooted in the traditional wow combat thinking, which is essentially a ‘rhythm’ or ‘attention’ game. in wow you have to hit a larger set of buttons in a specific order to do your role the best. do not listen to these people, as even ‘obvious’ hit-this-button-off-every-cooldown skills have important strategic choices, and by burning your cooldowns you are eliminating your strategic choices. learning when and how to weave these strategic choices into combat to your advantage is where the depth comes into play.
classes all have their own unique resource or skill system that sets them apart from the other classes, and this goes a long way to bringing back some much needed class distinction to a genre where ‘every class can do everything’ means no class is special. (there is also the fact that each class seems to be really good at applying some buffs/debuffs, but really bad at applying other buffs/debuffs, but thats really no different from the Great Raid Buff/Debuff Consolidation Wow 3.0 Patch, which is to say its not interesting or unique, theyve just done their homework.)
this is also improved by some really smart decisions in stat and trait choices. there are no bad stats for any single class, only bad stats for a specific build the player is going for. so in theory, no gear is every really totally truly worthless (in practice power/crit gear is usually the most in demand). instead of talent trees, which even blizzard has abandoned, you now have trait lines, which you can either go down to influence your stat distribution, or you can go down to pick up specific effects. theres a lot of choices to make an thanks to how stats all scale each has a tremendous effect how you play solo or in a group.
thats not entirely to say the game’s combat is without flaws. the aforementioned ‘zerg’ effect reduces some combat utterly trivial and banal experiences. the other problem is that frankly the ‘boss’ enemies just arent as well tuned as one would expect from a world of warcraft game. even swtor ‘boss’ enemies behave better than guild wars 2 bosses. i hope this is something that changes for the better over time, but right now they are among one of the biggest letdowns of the game.
the question on some peoples mind is ‘should i buy and play guild wars 2?’, and the answer i keep coming back to is ‘how well did you like world of warcraft?’
while guild wars 2 fanboys retch in horror if you dare compare the two, its no secret which playerbase arenanet was aiming this game at. theres a lot to like about the systems present in guild wars 2, theres a lot of improvements guild wars 2 has done to shake up the ‘wow formula’, but theres also a lot of issues that can drive you up the wall. not having a subscription fee definitely goes a long way to alleviating buyers remorse.
…but diablo 3 also didnt have a subscription fee, and a lot of people have buyers remorse with that game too. so if you bought and really hated diablo 3, id recommend holding off buying guild wars 2 and let the launch hype settle for a month or two.
and if youve never played an mmo before? theres a lot worse mmos out there than guild wars 2, so consider picking it up (but id recommend playing a f2p mmo first a bit just to see if mmos are for you).